Working Gear

Relay Race

R.R. Donnelley Logistics and the USPS have teamed up to offer consumers the ability to track their packages from the merchant’s fulfillment center to their own front door. As packages move through its national network of sorting facilities, Donnelley Logistics tracks their progress until they reach the postal stream, where the tracking baton is passed to the USPS. Thanks to the Donnelley Logistics/USPS software integration, customers can access the tracking data via the USPS Web site at any phase in the delivery chain. By providing seamless visibility to each major event in the postal delivery process, Donnelley Logistics has made it possible for merchandisers to achieve the flawless, end-to-end visibility their customers demand, without compromising the deep postal discounts that drop-shipping affords them. For more information visit

Astral Plane

You don’t need to phone a psychic to learn about what lies ahead for your distribution center — “The Warehouse of the Future” is only a click away. Salt Lake City-based ESKAY Corp. has developed a simulation model demonstrating how a dynamic combination of material handling systems can support a variety of applications. “Companies are shipping smaller orders more frequently — and to a wider variety of customers,” says Kevin Thuet, ESKAY’s director of advanced applications. “ESKAY’s Warehouse of the Future shows how you can handle these orders accurately and efficiently in a single facility.”

The Warehouse of the Future simulation features systems for handling high-, medium-, and low-volume products, as well as varying pick speeds. It includes pick-to-light-equipped flow racks for small quantities of high-frequency items; a conveyor spur to a value-added services area for customized packaging; picking carts for low-volume, low-throughput items; a mini-load case buffer for medium-level picking activity and volume; and more. Thuet notes, “Although every system we build is configured for the customer’s unique operating requirements, The Warehouse of the Future provides a starting point where companies can see how ESKAY’s material handling systems could work in their environment.” Find out what the warehouse in your future looks like at, or call (801) 359-9900 for more information.

No Pop

Tamper-proof, moisture-proof, and practically impossible to puncture, the eCom Mailer from Polyair Inc., headquartered in Toronto, offers the perfect shipping solution for catalogers, online merchants, and fulfillment houses. Lined with high-slip Durabubble, the eCom Mailer is cushioned with the “toughest bubble in the industry,” and provides protection against shock and impact, especially important when shipping fragile items. Additionally, this tough yet lightweight mailer is less expensive to ship with than traditional Kraft bubble mailers. Contact Polyair at (416) 740-2687, or visit

Control Freak

Harness the power of the Internet to integrate the end-to-end management of your company’s worldwide freight via G-Log’s GC3 Global Command and Control Center. GC3 enables shippers to manage all freight worldwide across all modes in a multi-customer, multi-trading partner environment, thanks to features such as order integration, routing, rating, track and trace, complete visibility, and continuous planning within execution, payment, and settlement.

G-Log’s e-Logistics infrastructure enables companies such as DuPont, DFS, and Exel to reduce transportation costs and decrease inventory levels. Fully scalable and designed for the Web with 100% Java or Enterprise Java Beans application logic, GC3 captures key shipment and supply chain information requirements either by integrating with an ERP/order management system or via manual order entry. GC3 also tenders books and manages freight, enables reconciliation of invoices, and offers analysis that allows companies to report historical data, monitor performance, manage commitment, develop budgets, and forecast. Visit for more information.

Over the Rainbow

FKI Logistex has teamed with member companies Alvey Systems Inc. and White Systems Inc. to offer automated mixed-layer palletizing for manufacturing and distribution operations. The system effectively manages and palletizes, by layer, large volumes of quick-turning SKUs. Combining Alvey’s 520 Series gantry robotic palletizer with White’s multi-position pallet carousel, the system can direct SKU data, pick locations, order configurations, and carousel replenishment.

Starting with empty carousel pallet positions, the Order Manager software alerts an operator to replenish the empty positions with pallets of the proper product by indexing the empty carousel positions to the pallet in-feed. Pallets of product weighing up to 2,500 lbs. are then loaded onto the in-feed for induction into the carousel.

Once loaded, the carousel rotates the product-filled pallets into Alvey’s gantry work envelope, where up to three 1,100-lb. layers can be picked off the carousel and placed on a new pallet until the rainbow load is built. The completed load is then discharged through a unit load conveyor and taken through a stretch-wrapper to a load-picking station for transfer. Featuring an open-architecture, PC-based control system, as well as a touch-screen operation interface, Alvey’s gantry is capable of traveling up to 90″/sec. along the gantry bridge. For more information call FKI Logistex at (877) 935-4564, e-mail, or visit the company on the Web at

Code Blue

Bad bar codes got you down? If your company must conform to bar code compliance standards, and printing a bad bar code results in fines, costly redundant work, or even a loss of business, fear not: RJS’s CP5000 Series portable bar code verifier can help save the day — or at least a batch of mail. Featuring CCD-based imaging technology, the CP5000 provides quality and data analysis of PostNet and PLANET bar code parameters per USPS specifications. Designed specifically for companies that take advantage of discounted mail rates by pre-sorting and imaging outgoing pieces with a PostNet code, the CP5000 can help avoid the repercussions of defective bar codes. Visit RJS at, or call (800) 840-4267 for additional information.

Lisa Marie Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Wilton, CT. She may be reached by e-mail at

Working Gear

Fit to Print

Want to send your shipments with a sharp-looking label? Sauven Marking Ltd. has recently developed a compact multi-purpose printer named the Codajet 6000. Distributed by Griffin-Rutgers Co., this versatile printer features ultra-high resolution and online printing of any characters, bar codes, or graphics on corrugated cases and other packaging materials.

The Codajet 6000 also features a fully integrated system including a print head, control panel, triggering sensor, and ink cartridge in a single unit. The printer can display single or continuous repeating messages that can be printed at up to 100 meters per minute and prints bar codes at 30 meters per minute. The standard software offers three character heights; up to four print lines; bar codes and a choice of logos; various fonts; an incremental date, time, shift, and count; pictorial function keys; 50 stored messages; several languages; a non-hazardous ink cartridge; and auto voltage select. Additional options for the Codajet 6000 include a remote print head and a variable speed encoder. For more information, visit

If you have a lot of labels to print, but not a lot of time to do it, Avery Dennison VIP Converted Products has recently introduced a new high-speed labeling system. Dubbed the ALS 380, it accurately applies pre-printed, bar-coded labels to boxes, cartons, and other items on high-speed production lines. The ALS 380 can dispense 1,000 labels per minute with a high accuracy and throughput rate, enabling it to meet tight compliance labeling requirements.

The ALS 380 bar code label applicator also features a built-in memory that enables it to store multiple product/label settings. The ALS 380 is driven by an integral electronic circuit, and has an on-board Automatic Product Speed Follower (APSF), which ensures correct label placement. In fact, placement is accurate to a level of plus or minus 0.02 inches.

The ALS 380 can operate on production lines moving up to 330 ft. per minute, and can apply pre-printed bar-coded labels ranging in length from 0.4 to 20 inches and up to 6.4 inches wide. The system also compensates for any gaps on the label roll by automatically advancing to the next label.

Users can set up the ALS 380 as an independent unit or connect it to a computer network or PC via an optional RS 232 interface. This option enables users to store product and label settings remotely and download them to the ALS 380 when needed. For more information, visit

The Cyclone bar code label printer, a low-cost, heavy-duty machine from Primera Technology, prints any combination of text, graphics, photos, and bar codes onto either direct thermal or thermal transfer label and tags. It can handle media up to four inches wide by 25 inches long, and print speed can be adjusted from one inch to four inches per second.

Also featured on the Cyclone are an 18-gauge steel cabinet and a high-impact plastic front panel that enables the printer to be used in a wide range of industrial environments. Its straightforward design fits right into a variety of office and retail settings. All driver software is included with the printer. Microsoft Windows PrimaBar label design comes with the software package.

For more information, visit

A Little Light Music

Imagine talking to a computer that can hear you say what you want, acknowledge your decision to purchase, and take down payment information nearly as well as a live person — without putting you on hold. The pleasant voice at the other end even hums to you if you ask it to wait while you think about it.

This new voice commerce portal technology has been developed by NetByTel to help retailers meet the needs of customers who have not quite warmed up to the idea of Web commerce, but who have both telephones and a desire to order products at any time without the hassles of waiting for traditional customer service. NetByTel’s voice recognition technology allows retailers to automate product ordering and information about merchandise pricing, availability, and order status, all on a real-time basis. Office Depot recently picked up an e-commerce innovation award for its success in implementing NetByTel’s telephony technology to expand sales channels beyond traditional online and catalog ordering.

The technology’s appeal lies in its potential to save costs and provide improved customer service. For more information, visit

Cart It Along

Pallet carts from Frazier Industrial Company of Long Valley, NJ, provide safer, quicker, and simpler picking conditions for warehouse workers. The carts can help save much of the time that would otherwise be required to follow the official OHSA recommendation for how to pick cartons at the rear of a pallet. OHSA’s preferred method involves using a fork truck to turn pallets around when they are 50% full. This maneuver changes the position of the remaining cartons so that they are at the aisle face, easy to reach and move.

The Glide ‘N Pick pallet cart frees workers from the need to climb into the rack system. The wheeled cart pulls product forward on tracks, relieving workers of the task of having to climb into the rack system to retrieve cartons from the rear of a pallet. The cart is available in either a drop-in design that allows it to be retrofitted to all types of shelves and racks with structural, roll-formed, or step beams, or a bolt-in design for shelf beams that have pre-punched pallet support holes. A back wall keeps cases from falling behind the rack, and sealed bearings with aircraft lubricant keep the pallet cart working efficiently even in freezers or high temperatures.

Frazier pallet carts have a maximum capacity of 3,000 lbs. and hold standard 48-inch-deep pallets with a width of 40 to 42 inches. For more information, call Domenick Iellimo at (908) 876-3001.

Here and There

If you need to ship large volumes of parcels, domestic or international, through multiple carriers, check out DI Server 2.0, which provides carton-level detail throughout operations, from order entry to customer service. DI Server 2.0 is the latest shipping automation system from ShipNow, which has offices in Chicago and Palo Alto, CA.

DI Server can accommodate shipment management rules at individual locations around the world while still providing centralized corporate control of shipments. The program offers one interface to legacy systems.

For carrier rates, label printing, and paper and electronic manifests, DI Server 2.0 uses ShipNow’s Carrier Development Engine. Advanced software architecture, shipping process blueprints, and use of XML allow efficient data exchange with external systems. For more information, call Nick Farina at (312) 587-2881 or visit

Artificial Intelligence

If you store and distribute the right kind of product, you may be able to use one of two new picking systems that feature robots. These tireless machines work without stopping, and in addition they generate their own activity reports.

Swisslog North America’s MultiPick system features robots that are deployed to build mixed-article stacks in the quantities that customers order and in proper routing sequences. MultiPick is designed for more efficient picking of returnable containers such as plastic bins, totes, and cases in full-case quantities.

RoboPick systems are ideal for distribution based on continuous, single-case picking of non-returnable articles such as cardboard boxes, group packs, and trays. Robots can pick per order or per batch. Both systems use an overhead gantry structure that frees the floor and allows the appropriate number of crates, packages, or pallets to be buffered for picking.

For more information, call (800) 764-0300 or visit

Working Gear

Mix, match, switch products on the Web with all-in-one configuration tools

Cut to Fit

It’s no surprise that marketing simple products is easier than marketing complex products. A “complex” product can be relatively straightforward, too, and is often just a separate SKU (a “deluxe” version of a standard product, for instance). Truly complicated products with multiple components, each of which must be chosen from a number of options (such as computer configurations), are much more difficult to handle. And, if some products in some configurations are available only to certain customers (based on customer type, purchase history, or other criteria), then you have a labyrinthine challenge on your hands.

Such a challenge is difficult enough to handle in a printed catalog or a call center environment, but when you attempt to support configuration of complex products on the Web, you are apt to find a very steep learning curve indeed. Rather than cobbling together your own solution to this formidable task, you may be tempted to turn instead to software applications called “configurators” that are designed specifically for this purpose.

Sixty-six at one blow

Calico Advisor is part of the Calico suite of e-commerce-enabling applications ( Written in Java using Enterprise Java Beans and Java applets (on the BEA WebLogic Java Application Server), Advisor automatically matches a customer’s profile with available products, with support for cross-selling, upselling, and customer-specific pricing. With a “stateless,” multi-threaded configuration engine, the system can handle up to 66 simultaneous configurations per second without requiring any per-user memory configurations on the commerce server (it has been benchmarked to handle more than one million transactions per day).

To add and configure product options, merchandise managers use the Calico Visual Modeler component on Advisor, which lets them simply set up new components or drag and drop them from existing product databases and establish the allowable configurations by “drawing” lines among them to define relationships.

A separate module, Calico Price Point, supports dynamic custom pricing of products and configurations by customer or customer type. Calico, available in a SQL Server or Oracle version, supports an XML interface and the Macromedia DreamWeaver and Visual Café tools.

The system has been implemented at Sunrise Medical Inc. in Longmont, CA. Sunrise Medical sells wheelchairs in several hundred possible combinations of components, and Calico helps keep track of which combinations can be made and sold to which customers.

Track and build

The SalesPerformer Configurator from Firepond (, another Java-based product, logs and tracks customer-specified needs, recommends products, and applies variant pricing. It interactively applies product and option rules, constraints, and relationships to manage complex pricing scenarios, promotions (including cross-selling and upselling), discounts, and taxes within multiple selling channels simultaneously. As with Calico, Firepond has a visual tool set for modeling, editing, testing, and importing data and defining data classes, attributes, and relationships.

Compaq Rack Builder Online is based on Firepond’s SalesPerformer application, which allows business customers and channel partners to generate customized enterprise computer hardware solutions over the Web. The Compaq Rack Builder Online site guides customers interactively through the process of configuring complex systems, personalizing product choices, components, content, and other decision factors to their individual requirements. Users can customize their configuration using a drag-and-drop visual representation of each product. Using this tool, combined with component placement rules in the configurator system, a customer is guided to position the correct products in the correct slots, automatically maximizing rack density and overall system performance.

Selectica ( offers a configuration tool as part of its Internet Selling System (ISS), based on its ACE KnowledgeBase. ISS presents the customer with a user-defined, branchable series of questions to determine customer needs and requirements. The system will then display for the customer the options and components that are applicable for the product or products the customer has in mind, with customer-specific pricing and promotions.

Customer behavior

Like most of these systems, Tacton ( offers a knowledge-based configuration system built on an “artificial intelligence” engine. The Tacton Studio is a graphical maintenance tool used to define how products can be combined into solutions (i.e., configured). The Tacton Studio creates a model file containing the product configuration rules. This model file “feeds” these rules in turn along with product data to the Tacton Configurator Server. It also includes an “optimizer” that finds the best configuration (based on business rules) to meet a customer’s defined needs.

Tacton’s Business Developer software analyzes data generated from configurations. The Business Developer, created in conjunction with SAS Inc., creates daily, specialized business reports to provide insight into customer shopping and purchasing behavior regarding configured options. Tacton’s software works with most operating systems such as Unix and Windows and uses APIs adapted for industry standards like XML, COM/DCOM, Java, and Corba.

Trilogy ( offers the MultiChannel Commerce Config (MCC Config) application module, which works in conjunction with Trilogy’s other modules: MCC Quote, MCC Catalog, MCC Needs Analysis, MCC Pricer, and MCC ConfigViews. The last is the engine on which the configurations are built.

Tools for tools

A company called Tangerine Technologies (, which has developed a number of highly specialized configurator solutions for the high-tech and life-science fields, is developing a ConfiguratorDesigner tool that will support rapid development of configurators for other specialized areas, as well.

eLoyalty ( offers what it calls a “Loyalty Configurator,” which is a business rules engine (adaptable to multiple channels) that optimizes customer interactions by identifying unique customer situations, supporting rules for actions when those circumstances have been identified, executing those actions across all company access or interaction channels, and reporting and diagnosing the effectiveness of the actions on customer loyalty. eLoyalty’s “Loyalty Architecture” (see illustration above) is primarily intended for a customer service environment, but can be adapted to e-commerce, as well.

In terms of cost, these systems tend to run into the high five- or low six-figure range (and higher). Integrating them into your existing architecture may cost you even more. But by automating an otherwise laborious (or close too impossible) process, you may be able to justify the investment.

Maintenance of the system after set-up can also be a real trick. Everything else being equal, the system that appears to you to be the easiest to maintain for your product and customers will probably be the best buy.

Ernie Schell is president of Marketing Systems Analysis, Inc. He can be reached by phone at (215) 396-0660, by fax at (215) 396-0696, and by e-mail at

working gear

Making it easy: pragmatic pick carts; air pillow packing; quiet conveyors; smart sorter

Clever Carts A new picking cart by ESKAY Corp. of Salt Lake City, UT, is equipped with a built-in radio frequency terminal and a bar code scanner to help workers pick orders faster and more accurately. The terminal sends transactions to a host computer, providing real-time inventory control, and the terminal and bar code scanner allow simultaneous picking and verification. Designed for large-variety, low-volume order-picking operations, the ESKAY cart gives workers priority-based pick instructions and an optimal pick path. An on-board pick-to-light system automatically consolidates picked items and verifies that they are placed in the correct totes. An optional on-board printer supplies manifest and bar-coded shipping labels. For more information, call (801) 359-9900 or visit ESKAY’s Web site at

The ProCart, from Akro-Mils, Akron, OH, has hinged side gates that flip into position and lock in place, converting it from a flat-top to a box-top cart. Side gates can be lowered to make flat shelves on two levels. “I-beam” construction eliminates corner posts and simplifies loading and unloading oversized boxes onto the lower shelf. The ProCart has a maximum capacity of 400 pounds. A nine-rail hanging system and an assortment of AkroBins convert it to a portable work center for assembly line distribution tasks or warehouse order picking. Call (330) 253-5592 for more information, or visit the company’s Web site at

Automated Answers The Interactive Voice Response system, developed by of Aberdeen, NJ, eliminates the need for employees to handle phone queries. The IVR performs to more than 40 commands, which can be custom-designed, and connects with most databases. When integrated with iVoice’s speech recognition system, the IVR allows callers to ask questions and modify database information from a touch-tone phone instead of listening to a menu of options. It also records information. Callers can order products, obtain and update work schedules, and request account balance information. Custom applications include account status, delivery information, funds transfer, and claims information. The speech recognition component is an option. An IVR demo and system screen shots are available at For more information, call Jerry Mahoney, CEO of, at (732) 441-7700.

It’s in the Bag The AirSpace Pillow Packaging System from Polyair, Toronto, Ontario, makes clean, re-usable, lightweight air pillows for void-filling and cushioning. The self-contained, portable AirSpace machine weighs less than 100 pounds and does not require compressed air. It uses standard 115-volt power and occupies a 20- by 40-inch space. Pillow sizes can be adjusted according to your needs. By pressing a button, you can choose pillows with perforations or complete cuts and set the machine to run a specific number of pillow batches. For more information, call (416) 740-2687 or contact

Another new protective product, Bag-on-a-Roll, is ideal for operations where bag-making equipment is not available. Custom made in perforated rollstock by Pactiv Corp., Lake Forest, IL, the bags are designed to protect items like upholstered furniture, electronics, plants, appliances and fixtures. Bag-on-a-Roll is available in a variety of materials, including film-foam laminations, air cushioning, and foam, and in sizes up to 240 inches deep and 78 inches wide. Visit the company’s Web site at or call (800) 557-2284 for more information.

Tie It Up The Model TR3C automatic, in-line strapping system from EAM-Mosca Corp., West Hazleton, PA, straps telescoping and RSC cartons closed without tape so the cartons can be used again. The TR3C can also be used for bundling multi-case shipments and protecting expensive items in plastic tote boxes from loss or theft without security fasteners.

The machine’s features include: automatic strap feed for fast strap coil changeover and a heavy-duty, roller conveyor that opens wide for maintenance; adjustable height to fit almost any conveyor line; automatic placement of one strap or multiple straps on a carton; variable conveyor speed to ensure proper packing; and large strap coils, carrying up to 23,000 feet, that allow long production runs.

Model TR3C’s sealer technology eliminates problems with clutches, sprockets, and chains while it controls strap feeding and tensioning. Brushless motor drives in the sealing head provide a low-maintenance machine that cycles at speeds of more than 40 straps per minute. For more information, call (800) 456-3420.

Rolling Along – Quietly The roller tube is the only moving part of the new Driveroll GL conveyor roller, made by Interroll Corp., Wilmington, NC. That means roller noise is gone. The gearless, brushless, motor-driven roller handles packages weighing up to 150 pounds. Typical applications include high-speed sortation and order picking and computer-controlled postal sortation. For more information, call (800) 362-9616.

Another quiet operator is the Model 1254 lineshaft conveyor from Rapistan Systems, Grand Rapids, MI. This conveyor’s Series 1600 bearing reduces noise and allows greater load capacity per roller. Model 1254 is used for items that are small and difficult to handle, including bottles, electronics, pharmaceutical and personal care items, and audiovisual products. The conveyor is available in three widths, which makes it adaptable to existing systems. Call (616) 913-6525 for more information.

A Hot Pick Spectrum 1000, from White Systems Inc., Kenilworth, NJ, is a Windows-based materials management software system designed for high-throughput applications. It automates horizontal or vertical carousels, light-directed picking devices, and power columns. The software can run manual and automated work zones at the same time, as well as integrate shelving or rack work zones, control up to eight carousels per workstation, and batch orders. It manages unscheduled “hot” picks and putaways as well as parallel or pick-and-pass picking. Spectrum 1000 incorporates an Oracle database and includes self-diagnostics capability. For more information, call (908) 272-6700.

E-Parts Find lift truck replacement parts and accessories in an electronic catalog on CD-ROM from e.Parts of Gurnee, IL. The catalog gives information and prices. Helpful features include search capability, an electronic order form, a custom price book, a data export option, and parts photos. The CD-ROM supplements the e.Parts printed catalog. For a free CD-ROM, call (877) 472-7870.

Sort It Out The Cross-Belt Mark II Sorter, manufactured by Crisplant Inc., Frederick, MD, sorts fragile, high-friction items weighing 13 lbs. or less that require horizontal discharge. Once on the sorter, heavy objects are discharged to one side while lighter ones are sent to the other. The sorter is powered by a distributed network between units. Power is applied through straight conductor rails, reducing wear on the slide components. Because it uses an inductive energy transfer system for power and an infrared system for data transfer, the sorter has few moving parts. Throughput speed is high, at 2 meters/sec. Call (301) 663-8710 for more information, or visit Crisplant’s Web site at

Going Wireless PowerLink, a self-powered, wireless interface, turns hand-held serial devices, including two-dimensional bar code scanners, into portable, wireless devices. A product of Wireless Mountain Laboratories Inc., San Luis Obispo, CA, PowerLink costs approximately $600 per unit and can be used in any type of business, from a retail store to a medical center. The unit works with Wireless Mountain’s UniLink, a wireless radio transceiver powered by the device to which it is linked. The pocket-sized PowerLink comes with the data transceiver and a battery. All you need to do is plug it into the hand-held scanner. For more information, call (805) 596-0960 or visit Wireless Mountain’s Web site at